For 10 years, I’ve carried anger, wondering and questioning of how my son came down with an “unknown virus” that took his life. Sickness, shared at school, was ultimately what killed my child.

Austin was a healthy, active, sports-loving 14-year old who was riding his bike around our neighborhood when his airway was attacked. One moment he was happy, laughing and enjoying an evening ride with his friend. In the next, he was gone.

It was the end of November, Thanksgiving weekend. We had more than our share of strep and illness with the back-to-school season but it was never anything I considered serious. His doctor did suggest a tonsillectomy, to help reduce risks, but ironically it was scheduled after the holidays.

I’ve second-guessed this choice more times than I can count.

I gave Austin the health speech many times of “no sharing food or drinks” and using the multiple hand sanitizers I strapped to his backpack or bought for his locker. Despite being proactive, it seemed week after week, he’d come home again with the sniffles or some other kid’s germs.

Related post: The Worry Season

He was a freshman in high school. The fact that parents were sending their kids to school contagious angered me. Teens are old enough to say they are sick and stay home by themselves. I remember posting about the frustration on Facebook just weeks before he passed.

After he died, there were times I wondered… what kid brought that illness to my son? What mother sent their child to school, knowing they were sick and contagious? And (God forgive me) why did their child survive but mine didn’t?

Not that I would ever wish child loss or death on anyone.  I just couldn’t grasp how or why mine died. Wasn’t it just an average cold? He had just seen a doctor regarding the surgery days before.  If it was more or serious, wouldn’t he have said something? What could I have done differently?

Why did I fail as a mother, when our primary responsibility is to protect our children?

Austin was healthy and strong. A baseball player, wrestler and an active teen. Why him?

It terrified me there was an unknown virus we weren’t warned about. I took my children to the doctor regularly and preventively. They had flu shots and vaccines. What more could I have done to save him?

I was scared to the core with every sniffle from my youngest son that he would also catch it – this unknown virus. We sanitized our home from floor to ceiling. I took him to the pediatrician for more tests than he should have had to endure, just as a precaution. As such, he is now terrified of needles and avoids doctors in general.

Related Post: Hypochondria, Anxiety, And Grief: What Comes After Loss

“Unknown” amplified my fears.  It would be years before a “typical cold” didn’t send me spiraling.

My youngest survived the school years but not without worry, fear, panic, prayers and tons of prevention.  Though he has since graduated, I frequently hear concerns from other moms about the continual cycle of sickness shared in the classroom.  Should policies be stricter? Absentee allowances looser? Employers more flexible so parents have the option to keep their children home? Doctors more aware of the overuse and abuse of antibiotics in our healthcare system?

I’m not sure what the answer is or if one even exists.  It is the vicious spiral a child-loss parent endures.  And my heart breaks thinking of other parents who have and will struggle with the “what ifs” that come with unexpected and unexplained loss.


photo credit: andreas160578/pixabay

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    Heather Blair

    Heather Blair

    In 2008, my world as I knew it changed forever, with the sudden loss of our 14-year-old son, Austin. The journey to my blog (and attitude toward life) was bumpy and tearful, beginning at a memorial blog for my son. I later chose to take another path, challenging myself to find the JOY in every day, despite the sadness I still felt. I love and miss him daily but I'm living my life to honor him - and celebrating every moment it brings. My find and share the joy in every day. You can find me at Joyful Challenge